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Why Sly Cooper Deserves a Return

Why Sly Cooper Deserves a Return

Sucker Punch Productions’ original Master Thief, Sly Cooper, stole the hearts of many gamers, and the fandom is still going strong. Lizabeth Phoenix makes a case as to why this smooth criminal deserves a return on PlayStation 5.

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Friendship Enders: Mario Party

Friendship Enders: Mario Party

After a bit of a hiatus, we’ve got the second installment of Friendship Enders and we’re focusing on part two of the relationship-ending trifecta – Mario Party. Grab your controllers, get those thumbs ready cause it’s time to party.

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Black Widow Movie Review

Black Widow Movie Review

I just came home from the cinema, and my head is buzzing with many thoughts about Marvel’s return to the big screen. But, before I get into it, I will have to put a big red: SPOILER WARNING. You’ve been warned. 

The MCU had been going strong since WandaVision graced our TV screens, but we had to wait a tiny bit longer for the return of the movies. When they first postponed Black Widow, I don’t think any of us thought that it would end up getting pushed back till the summer of 2021. Yet, here we are. 

There was a lot of speculation about what Black Widow would be about and where it would be on the timeline of events, but I don’t believe anyone guessed correctly I certainly didn’t. My theory was that Natasha is closed inside the Soul Stone and she would somehow relive her memories, but slowly she would realize what’s been going on. I was completely off track, which led to the very sad realization that this indeed was the last appearance of Scarlett Johansson in the MCU. This realization is due to the fact that Black Widow takes place between the events of Civil War and Infinity War when Natasha is on the run. 

At the beginning of the movie, we get a look into Natasha’s childhood with her father, mother, and little sister in Ohio. It sure seems idyllic until the eagle-eyed Marvel fans (aka me for example) start to chuckle. Natasha didn’t know who her parents were, and that is made clear throughout the MCU timeline. She is in fact very surprised when Red Skull reveals her father’s name to her in Endgame because she didn’t even know that. Therefore, we can already tell that something isn’t quite right in the scenario, even though it is nice to see a happy moment from our beloved Black Widow’s childhood, even if we soon find out that it was all an illusion. The people she treated as family betrayed her very early on and she and her little sister Yelena (Florence Pugh) are tossed back into the Red Room where the Widow training is happening. 

The movie fast forwards 21 years as Natasha is on the run from Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) after the events of Civil War. This is where we also meet Yelena again as she is on a mission and as she overpowers the target, a red substance is thrown at her. But instead of turning into a mindless monster, (which is something one could expect in a situation like this), her head actually clears up and it turns out that ever since Natasha escaped they have used very successful mind-controlling chemicals on the next generation of Widows. Yelena gets rid of the tracking device that is inside her and soon the samples of the ‘cure’ (let’s call it that) end up in Natasha’s hands.

Yelena (Florence Pugh) Alexei (David Harbour) and Natasha (Scarlett Johansson)

That’s the catalyst for the movie. It is so much more than just a superhero/action film from that point. Natasha has to deal with a lot. She goes from one broken family (The Avengers) back to another one only to find out that the famous Budapest events (referenced by her and Clint a lot) were all for nothing. It turns out that she had tried to kill the leader of the Red Room and the Widow program Dreykov (Ray Winstone) and her arch-nemesis had actually survived. 

Now before I get on with the review, I want to share a bit of a fun story that happened at this big reveal. I am from Hungary, and we’ve been waiting to find out what role our capital: Budapest, would play in the MCU since it was first mentioned in Avengers (2012). There was a line in the movie referring to events that probably aren’t funny to an international crowd, but the whole cinema here laughed out loud when it was said. Natasha says that after the bombing, which was supposed to take out Dreykov, she and Clint had to fight through the Hungarian Commando. We all laughed at this because TEK (the previously referred to Commandos) has quite a bad reputation here in Hungary because in a lot of cases they are deemed to be incompetent. So Natasha saying that they had to fight through them like it was a big deal made over 90 people laugh in the cinema even though I am sure they didn’t think of it as a source for laughter. 

Ok back to the review. 

Once Natasha realizes that what she did to close down her past and save other girls from the same fate was unsuccessful, a much darker thing comes back to haunt her. As it turns out, the day they tried to kill Dreykov they also killed his daughter because as she put it, “There was no other way.” It’s clear very early on that this decision never left Natasha’s mind, and that she has struggled to come to terms with what she did. To find forgiveness. It sits heavily on the film the same way their “parents” betrayals do. 

Natasha Romanoff

They soon figure out that in order to find the Red Room they have to get the help of their fake parents. First, they have to save Alexei (David Harbour) from prison – he was betrayed and put behind bars by Dreykov – and get to Melina (Rachel Weisz) who still works for the Red Room and is responsible for the chemical compound that controls the widows. Once they arrive at Melina’s home we get to witness one of the most important scenes in the movie as the two girls’ trauma catches up with them. I have to admit that I was unsure about Florence Pugh’s casting as Yelena up until this moment in the movie. Here she proved it once and for all that she is pretty great. It broke my heart a little as it also showed us that Natasha’s past has been darker than we could have imagined. Yelena represented the child who was unaware that nothing she saw or experienced during their three years as a “family” was true, while Natasha was old enough to know that it was nothing more than an act. Both of their hurt was real and deep-cutting. 

I really liked the more quiet parts of Black Widow. It once and for all proved that one of the original six deserved to have her own film and we still had a lot to learn about her. She is smart, strong, brave, and everything that’s worth looking up to. It definitely gave me more strength to keep going on my journey and do everything I can to one day be part of the MCU. 

I know a lot of people complained about Taskmaster being a letdown and while I do understand them, I do not agree with them. The tragedy of this character, and showing the true evil of the story is simply fantastic. Taskmaster is none other than Antonia Dreykov (Olga Kurylenko) aka the daughter of Dreykov, who was used by her own father the same way other girls were. He was controlling the mind of his daughter without any remorse. He even has the audacity to thank Natasha for giving him one of his greatest weapons. 

Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko)

The movie’s conclusion is amazing. Natasha not only finds forgiveness for what she did, but she also realizes that there’s still hope for her and her other family. They set Yelena up as our next Black Widow flawlessly and Natasha shows up at the end of the movie the way she looked in Infinity War, which gives a bittersweet touch to the whole story. 

I was ugly crying once the realization fully set in that this was our last time with Scarlett. She has been such a highlight of this Universe and she was an example for girls to look up to. She has been and always will be an inspiration. 

And the reason I will forgive Black Widow for coming out this “late” in the game lies in the end credit scene. 

Yelena goes to Natasha’s grave (with the dog she mentioned she always wanted) and that’s when FREAKING VALENTINA (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) to whom we were introduced in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier shows up to give Yelena her next target. It is none other than the murderer of her sister: Clint Barton aka Hawkeye. Now, my theory with this big-ass surprise, in the end, is that we will meet Yelena again sooner than we thought in the upcoming Hawkeye series. I mean, it would make sense, but I also know that there’s no point in creating theories when it comes to Marvel because they like to mess with us a little. 

Julia Louis-Dreyfus in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier

All in all, Black Widow was a perfect entry in the MCU. Sure, we could have gotten it sooner, but to be honest I kind of don’t mind getting it like this. They did a wonderful job with tying the knots together,  and Scarlett’s last appearance couldn’t have been any better, even if it was bittersweet in the end. I sure will miss her. 

Thank you Black Widow. 

Thank you Marvel. 

I am sending my therapy bill. 

What did you think of the movie? Leave a comment below.

Black Widow Movie Review

Black Widow Movie Review

I just came home from the cinema, and my head is buzzing with many thoughts about Marvel’s return to the big screen. But, before I get into it, I will have to put a big red: SPOILER WARNING. You’ve been warned. 

The MCU had been going strong since WandaVision graced our TV screens, but we had to wait a tiny bit longer for the return of the movies. When they first postponed Black Widow, I don’t think any of us thought that it would end up getting pushed back till the summer of 2021. Yet, here we are. 

There was a lot of speculation about what Black Widow would be about and where it would be on the timeline of events, but I don’t believe anyone guessed correctly I certainly didn’t. My theory was that Natasha is closed inside the Soul Stone and she would somehow relive her memories, but slowly she would realize what’s been going on. I was completely off track, which led to the very sad realization that this indeed was the last appearance of Scarlett Johansson in the MCU. This realization is due to the fact that Black Widow takes place between the events of Civil War and Infinity War when Natasha is on the run. 

At the beginning of the movie, we get a look into Natasha’s childhood with her father, mother, and little sister in Ohio. It sure seems idyllic until the eagle-eyed Marvel fans (aka me for example) start to chuckle. Natasha didn’t know who her parents were, and that is made clear throughout the MCU timeline. She is in fact very surprised when Red Skull reveals her father’s name to her in Endgame because she didn’t even know that. Therefore, we can already tell that something isn’t quite right in the scenario, even though it is nice to see a happy moment from our beloved Black Widow’s childhood, even if we soon find out that it was all an illusion. The people she treated as family betrayed her very early on and she and her little sister Yelena (Florence Pugh) are tossed back into the Red Room where the Widow training is happening. 

The movie fast forwards 21 years as Natasha is on the run from Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) after the events of Civil War. This is where we also meet Yelena again as she is on a mission and as she overpowers the target, a red substance is thrown at her. But instead of turning into a mindless monster, (which is something one could expect in a situation like this), her head actually clears up and it turns out that ever since Natasha escaped they have used very successful mind-controlling chemicals on the next generation of Widows. Yelena gets rid of the tracking device that is inside her and soon the samples of the ‘cure’ (let’s call it that) end up in Natasha’s hands.

Yelena (Florence Pugh) Alexei (David Harbour) and Natasha (Scarlett Johansson)

That’s the catalyst for the movie. It is so much more than just a superhero/action film from that point. Natasha has to deal with a lot. She goes from one broken family (The Avengers) back to another one only to find out that the famous Budapest events (referenced by her and Clint a lot) were all for nothing. It turns out that she had tried to kill the leader of the Red Room and the Widow program Dreykov (Ray Winstone) and her arch-nemesis had actually survived. 

Now before I get on with the review, I want to share a bit of a fun story that happened at this big reveal. I am from Hungary, and we’ve been waiting to find out what role our capital: Budapest, would play in the MCU since it was first mentioned in Avengers (2012). There was a line in the movie referring to events that probably aren’t funny to an international crowd, but the whole cinema here laughed out loud when it was said. Natasha says that after the bombing, which was supposed to take out Dreykov, she and Clint had to fight through the Hungarian Commando. We all laughed at this because TEK (the previously referred to Commandos) has quite a bad reputation here in Hungary because in a lot of cases they are deemed to be incompetent. So Natasha saying that they had to fight through them like it was a big deal made over 90 people laugh in the cinema even though I am sure they didn’t think of it as a source for laughter. 

Ok back to the review. 

Once Natasha realizes that what she did to close down her past and save other girls from the same fate was unsuccessful, a much darker thing comes back to haunt her. As it turns out, the day they tried to kill Dreykov they also killed his daughter because as she put it, “There was no other way.” It’s clear very early on that this decision never left Natasha’s mind, and that she has struggled to come to terms with what she did. To find forgiveness. It sits heavily on the film the same way their “parents” betrayals do. 

Natasha Romanoff

They soon figure out that in order to find the Red Room they have to get the help of their fake parents. First, they have to save Alexei (David Harbour) from prison – he was betrayed and put behind bars by Dreykov – and get to Melina (Rachel Weisz) who still works for the Red Room and is responsible for the chemical compound that controls the widows. Once they arrive at Melina’s home we get to witness one of the most important scenes in the movie as the two girls’ trauma catches up with them. I have to admit that I was unsure about Florence Pugh’s casting as Yelena up until this moment in the movie. Here she proved it once and for all that she is pretty great. It broke my heart a little as it also showed us that Natasha’s past has been darker than we could have imagined. Yelena represented the child who was unaware that nothing she saw or experienced during their three years as a “family” was true, while Natasha was old enough to know that it was nothing more than an act. Both of their hurt was real and deep-cutting. 

I really liked the more quiet parts of Black Widow. It once and for all proved that one of the original six deserved to have her own film and we still had a lot to learn about her. She is smart, strong, brave, and everything that’s worth looking up to. It definitely gave me more strength to keep going on my journey and do everything I can to one day be part of the MCU. 

I know a lot of people complained about Taskmaster being a letdown and while I do understand them, I do not agree with them. The tragedy of this character, and showing the true evil of the story is simply fantastic. Taskmaster is none other than Antonia Dreykov (Olga Kurylenko) aka the daughter of Dreykov, who was used by her own father the same way other girls were. He was controlling the mind of his daughter without any remorse. He even has the audacity to thank Natasha for giving him one of his greatest weapons. 

Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko)

The movie’s conclusion is amazing. Natasha not only finds forgiveness for what she did, but she also realizes that there’s still hope for her and her other family. They set Yelena up as our next Black Widow flawlessly and Natasha shows up at the end of the movie the way she looked in Infinity War, which gives a bittersweet touch to the whole story. 

I was ugly crying once the realization fully set in that this was our last time with Scarlett. She has been such a highlight of this Universe and she was an example for girls to look up to. She has been and always will be an inspiration. 

And the reason I will forgive Black Widow for coming out this “late” in the game lies in the end credit scene. 

Yelena goes to Natasha’s grave (with the dog she mentioned she always wanted) and that’s when FREAKING VALENTINA (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) to whom we were introduced in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier shows up to give Yelena her next target. It is none other than the murderer of her sister: Clint Barton aka Hawkeye. Now, my theory with this big-ass surprise, in the end, is that we will meet Yelena again sooner than we thought in the upcoming Hawkeye series. I mean, it would make sense, but I also know that there’s no point in creating theories when it comes to Marvel because they like to mess with us a little. 

Julia Louis-Dreyfus in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier

All in all, Black Widow was a perfect entry in the MCU. Sure, we could have gotten it sooner, but to be honest I kind of don’t mind getting it like this. They did a wonderful job with tying the knots together,  and Scarlett’s last appearance couldn’t have been any better, even if it was bittersweet in the end. I sure will miss her. 

Thank you Black Widow. 

Thank you Marvel. 

I am sending my therapy bill. 

What did you think of the movie? Leave a comment below.

Great Directors and Why I Hate Them: Quentin Tarantino

Great Directors and Why I Hate Them: Quentin Tarantino

Allow me to introduce you to this new series of articles! Full disclosure, as well as a disclaimer, I don’t actually hate any of the directors in these articles. (HA! I just baited your click!) I speak in hyperbole merely because it’s funny. However, in my experience, it’s become apparent that simply declaring, “I’m not a big fan of (insert popular director),” causes people to infer that you actually “HATE THIS WRETCHED ABOMINATION OF CINEMATIC ARTISTRY!” 

But, let me be perfectly clear here… not being a fan doesn’t equate to hate or disrespect for the artist. Just because I don’t like strawberry ice cream doesn’t mean I hate “happiness milk.” ‘Cause I love it, I’m just lactose intolerant (okay, maybe this example got away from me).

That’s why in this series I will attempt to explain myself, a filmmaker, and the hills I will DIE on when it comes to certain directors and the types of film choices they make. I will also do my best to include contextual examples and even offer feedback on what I think would improve their style in a hopefully objective manner. This is not crapping on these directors, this is merely an attempt to voice my opinion and see what you all think about these incredible artists and create a dialogue. 

Without further ado, let’s do this (oh shit)…

First up: Quentin Tarantino. I know. How taboo, right?

Quentin Tarantino at the premiere of Inglourious Basterds.

I’m going to start with someone who is possibly the most jarring example of a great director that I have issues with. Saying you don’t like Tarantino to a film lover or filmmaker is akin to saying, “The Beatles suck!” to anyone with ears and a soul.

Again, I do not hate Tarantino’s films. On the contrary, I find him as one of the most important directors in modern cinema. His method of storytelling and nearly flawless ability to capture genuine human interactions is something to be admired by anyone looking into script writing. Hell, his writing style is the central focus of many writing courses in college. The only people I can think of capable of rivaling his style are the Cohen brothers

It is his directing style, however, where I take umbrage.

 

The problem: 

For however consummate Tarantino truly is in writing organic human interaction, he has a tendency of leaning into this form of realism far too much for what was initially promised as the focused genre. That’s especially true when he promises the most bombastically violent and action-packed film since the last most bombastically violent and action-packed film he made. And, oh brother, does he deliver on that promise… eventually. 

For me, looking at this picture is basically identical to watching the protracted “dialog” scenes in a Tarantino film.

BUT, dear God it takes so long to get there.

Tarantino focuses on the realistic aspect of the characters and their conversations, and more recently has leaned into the action like he originally promised: bombastic and action-packed. The problem being that this form of hyper realistic narrative is extremely difficult to inject in such a cinematically action-driven story. And if you go in thinking it’s just an action movie and get a strong character study, which is easy to do, this can take you out of the brilliance of his films. Additionally, part of his realism is to include over-saturated storytelling. He tends to give far more information than is needed. I don’t care what Kurt Russell thinks about coffee! Just please get to the point.

 

The example:

Imagine if Tarantino were given a Batman film. Here’s how I believe it would go:

Tarantino knows that you are already painfully aware of Bruce Wayne’s past and, correctly, assumes you don’t need a recap. So, he won’t go through the dead parents or training montage and instead we’ll get a Batman movie where he’s already Batmanning as Batman. The opening scene is two criminals having a long-winded conversation about sandwiches or something only to reveal after 5 minutes that they’re torturing a family for money. 

Then Batman shows up. 

But it’s more like a stalking serial killer from a horror movie. We don’t see him, but he takes out one of the guys surgically. The other finds his partner, we see Batman’s silhouette ominously emerging from the shadows behind him, then the title screen: Batman: Rogues Gallery. Strong 30-minute opening! A different take on a famous franchise. VERY Tarantino.

Then we get about an hour’s worth of Edward Nigma and Victor Zsasz collecting various villains and cryptically speaking about a “plan” they have. This is the over-saturated part I was talking about: lots of conversations that don’t go anywhere, characters that we begin to relate to that die offscreen immediately after being developed so the time we spent with them didn’t matter, and all the while Bruce Wayne isn’t even in the picture anymore.

Now the good stuff. The villains—Riddler, Zsasz, Black Mask, Penguin, Two-Face—all storm Wayne manor, take Alfred hostage, and keep him in the master bedroom, torturing him. Again, Batman is nowhere to be seen. Now we get a character study of all the villains as Alfred questions them, picking their brains and learning about them and their motives. Brilliant acting and some of the best lines put to paper.

Finally, Batman shows himself. He uses their vulnerability to dismantle all 5 villains in a BRILLIANT 5-minute action scene. Some of the best fight choreography and stunt work in any film. The film ends with the villains subdued, Alfred dying from his injuries, and Batman contemplating whether he will take their lives or not as he holds a since-passed Alfred in his arms.

Who am I kidding, I’d KILL to see this Tarantino-style movie that I just made up!

All this, however, is in a 2 1/2 hour BATMAN movie, where he’s maybe a side character at best. There’s 10 minutes total of great action, but it ultimately flatlines for a casual viewer who isn’t a Tarantino fan. 

There isn’t anything wrong with creating a character-driven action drama, but you can’t forget the action part.

And you know the media attached to this will be showing nothing but Batman and how dark and twisted the movie would be, forcing you to go in expecting a comic-book Batman film with a Tarantino twist instead of the other way around. And we know the other way around works! Just look at Joker, for crying out loud. Not to mention, that big hour-long part where nothing happens could be cut entirely, like some pretty big spots in most Tarantino films. That extra hour could make this unwatchable to some audiences.

You’re reading this on paper (internet screen?), which is much easier to digest. Imagine going to see a Batman movie where there’s only 5 minutes of actual Batman, or even Bruce Wayne, and, instead of ANY action, there’s far more character study with an emphasis on the study part. There isn’t anything wrong with creating a character-driven action drama. However, you can’t forget the action part. 

I created this example rather than using one of his existing films because many of us already have an opinion on Tarantino’s existing films. His legacy is sound. Regardless of whether or not you like his work, that opinion is already formulated. With this hypothetical example, we can view Tarantino’s formula more objectively. Even if this movie that doesn’t exist (yet) sounds super badass (man!), you know there will be people that hate the concept.

 

The solution: 

So let’s fix that right now, and easily: The title. 

Name the movie The Rogues Gallery. That’s it. In any and all press, exclude Batman. Promise that this will be a movie about the villains and what makes them tick. Offer nothing else. People will only expect to go in getting to know the villains, not see Batman Batmanning with batarangs and a bat-bat (that’s a baseball bat in the shape of a bat symbol). Give me what you promised, damn it!

This is the face I imagine Tarantino would make reading my article.

Tarantino does this a LOT! Kill Bill: Vol. 1 was awesome and tons of violent action, then its sequel, Vol. 2, took a weird turn that I couldn’t appreciate as a viewer until I wasn’t a stupid high schooler. Inglourious Basterds (still the movie I HATE most in his catalog) barely featured any of the “Basterds” we actually went to see and, instead, had 10-hour-long conversations about nothing and everyone died anyway (but Christoph Waltz is the F’n GOAT). The Hateful Eight had a bunch of characters (9, I think?) with background information we didn’t need to appreciate the whole story, and it only got really good after everyone started dying (which is why there’s a 4-hour version). And Death Proof… I won’t even get into that mess… though the last 20 minutes were awesome.

What I would suggest to Tarantino, or any filmmaker, is to know your own themes. If you’re making a character drama with action, tell me that’s what it is. Don’t tell me to expect TONS of action when I’m only getting one (albeit very impressive) fist or gun fight while the actual point of the film is to understand what the characters truly embrace out of life. Tarantino is very capable of great action and action-driven plots, but I love his character study and would appreciate knowing which film I’m getting when going to see it. Creating an audience expectation for a film that is heavily objective can really create dissonance in the community and generate animosity with your audience. Know what you’re writing, know your themes and genres, and most importantly, know what you are promising.

What are your thoughts on Tarantino as a director? What directors do you feel have a similar problem with setting the wrong expectations? Drop your thoughts in the comments. #ComeAtMeBro #ThisWasABadIdea 

 

Why Korean Movies and TV Shows Should Be on Your Watch List

Why Korean Movies and TV Shows Should Be on Your Watch List

I have to admit that Train to Busan wasn’t the first Korean movie I saw. It was actually The Host from acclaimed writer and director Bong Joon Ho. Back then, I don’t think I really appreciated that movie. I think I only watched it because everyone seemed to be talking about it. Years later, I went back and watched it again, and it was amazing. It gives a new shade to the monster genre and a depth that you probably didn’t even think was possible from a movie with a big monster in it. It’s not as much about the action as it is about the connection between the characters, the different relationships, and how they change. Although I have to admit, the action sequences are pretty damn good as well, especially the one at the beginning when the monster first attacks the people on the beach. But, I needed time (and an extra kick) to truly appreciate Bong Joon Ho’s movie. 

 


Gong Yoo (left) and Ma Dong-seok (right) in Train to Busan

In 2016 a new zombie movie rolled into the cinemas, and this time around, it came from Korea, not from the United States. It came at the right time when it seemed like that not even ‘The Walking Dead’ would be able to keep the zombie genre alive. In my personal opinion, Train to Busan single-handedly saved zombie films and is without question, the best one ever created. Yes, I know that is controversial to say, but I am standing by it with all my heart and soul. Once it came out, I managed to get it on Blu-Ray, watched it at least 50 times if not more, and I can’t get tired of it. I even got my hands on the novel version (it wasn’t an easy task).

I watched Seoul Station which plays in the same universe as Train to Busan and tells the story of how it all started in Seoul. This movie was such a huge success internationally as well, that we also got a second film called Peninsula which heavily involved the Americans, and not to throw any shade, but it sadly shows. Peninsula is nowhere near as great as Train to Busan was, and except for the opening scene on the ship, it fails on almost every level as it is heavily influenced by the simple curse of “More money, bigger effects and losing the heart and soul of the movie”. The characters are a bit flat and grey and they are your typical “genre characters”.

 

Not too long ago, we also got the news that James Wan (master of horror if you ask me) got the rights to create the American version of Train to Busan and I am not really happy with this news, to put it lightly. I love James Wan, respect him, and would LOVE to work with him one day, but I honestly wish that no one would ever touch Train to Busan. This movie was so good story-wise, in character building, and in the genre itself that it doesn’t need any remake/reboot. It needs to be left alone and exist perfectly on its own, please and thank you. I could go in-depth of why I think Train to Busan is the perfect zombie movie, but since I want to talk about other Korean movies and tv shows as well, I will link the video from the YouTube Channel ‘Wow Such Gaming’ in here because he explains it flawlessly:

After watching Train to Busan and falling in love with two actors Gong Yoo (he played the main character Seok-woo) and Ma Dong-seok (he played the absolute badass Sang-hwa) I did my usual ritual… I stalked them on IMDb and watched MANY of their movies and TV Shows. 

 

As I mentioned in my previous article, Ma Dong-seok will star in Marvel’s The Eternals this year, which I am overly excited about as it will be his first appearance in an American film. I would highly recommend some of his movies first for you all to fall in love with him. The two movies I love him in (besides Train to Busan of course) are two huge movies from Korea: Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds and Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days. In the first one, he only appears in the end but in the second one, he is one of the protagonists. These movies are mind-bending and I can guarantee you that they are very different from what you are used to. The first one tells the story of a firefighter who after his heroic death has to go through 7 trials in 7 hells over 49-days to disclose how he lived his life. He has the help of three guardians who are trying to succeed in defending him during the trials so he can be reincarnated as he is considered to be a model citizen. In the second movie, the Last 49 days we find out who the three guardians were in their life on Earth, and it is one of the most beautiful stories about how our lives can intertwine.

Watching these two movies made me realize why Korean movies are so appealing to me. The story-telling can be confusing at first because they are going deep from the beginning. They do not introduce their characters the same way other movies would, instead they go deep into the stories of their characters and the reason behind how they act during the main act. They don’t follow the so-called rules of story-telling. Therefore, when you fall in love with the characters on your screen it feels more natural, more human, as you find out who they really are and can get genuinely surprised when new characteristics are introduced through them. 

 

A TV Show I would like to recommend that stars Gong Yoo from Train to Busan, is called Sseulsseulhago Chalranhashin: Dokkaebi or as most people know it: Goblin. This series is mind-blowingly beautiful in every way possible: as a drama, as a romance, the cinematography, the story-telling, and the character building. It’s definitely a high peek of Korean television. Gong Yoo plays the titular character ‘Kim Shin’ aka ‘Goblin’ whose quest is to find a bride to break his immortal curse as he is a 939-year-old guardian of souls. It is at times heartbreaking, but all together just an absolutely breathtaking Korean TV drama. A must-watch. 

 

Still from the movie Forgotten

Netflix is a wonderful ally when it comes to Korean TV and Film, especially if you live outside of Korea. They have Korean originals and TV Shows and Movies (including the previously mentioned Along with the Gods) that are available to watch for the international crowd as well. The first Netflix original I saw was Forgotten. If you like heavily elaborate twists and true mind-bending… you HAVE TO watch this film. I adore Forgotten on the same level as Train to Busan (someone, please count how many times I already wrote down this title). Forgotten is about Jin-seok (played by Kang Ha-Neul) who’s brother returns after being abducted but he is a completely different person, so Jin-seok starts to search for the truth, and oh boy… the things he finds out and therefore we find out are so mind-blowing, that there’s no way you can guess ANY of the steps in this movie. It is masterfully done, every step, the way the story unfolds is something that should be taught to film students everywhere. It definitely changed my view on movies in a major way, especially on thrillers, as this counts as that. And what stands in the spotlight here as well? THE CHARACTERS. 

Another Netflix original I would very highly recommend to everyone is another TV Show called Kingdom. Kingdom is once again a major contender in the zombie genre BUT it plays during the Joseon period. It’s not just a simple zombie series, oh no… not even close, it is also a royal drama series with intricate story-telling and (once again) characters, who will very quickly grow on you and you can’t help but hold all your fingers crossed for them. This series easily knocks The Walking Dead out of the park, without any question. It focuses heavily on how greed is even worse than the dead coming back to life to bring chaos and destruction while also adding mystery and depth to its story. 

This article is very long. But hang with me as there are a few more titles that I need to mention as a must-see for anyone who would like to dive into Korean cinema (and oh boy, I hope you all do):

  • The Wailing (2016) – Psychological and Supernatural Horror
  • #Alive (2020) – Another in the Zombie genre, it has an American counterpart with Tyler Posey as the lead called ‘Alone’ but please, watch this instead of that.
  • Sweet Home (2020) – This is a Netflix original Monster TV Series, that I highly recommend. I had a bit of a harder time getting into this one than the others mentioned before, but once I was in… I did not regret it at all 
  • The Call (2020) – Remember the movie ‘Frequency’ with Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel. Well, this movie is very similar to that but it has a huge twist on it that works in its favor perfectly.
  • Lucid Dream (2017) – Another Netflix original Film, dives deep into the theories on Lucid Dreaming set in the crime drama/thriller genre. 
  • Space Sweepers (2021) – One more Netflix Original Film, fresh and crunchy, this is a sci-fi epic made as an international co-production, very fun, a bit rough around the edges but altogether beautiful. Less focus on characters, which might be a bit of a weak point. 
  • Parasite (2019) – Bong Joon Ho’s masterpiece. If you haven’t seen it yet, what are you doing with your life? 

There are so many more Korean TV shows and films we could talk about, but I tried to highlight some of my favorites in this article. I’ve only really started to get into Korean cinema the past few years and I do regret not getting into it earlier. It’s so different from what I am used to that it is actually refreshing. I would give out a warning though… once you get in don’t be surprised if it completely sucks you in. As a matter of fact, I started learning Korean back in 2020 so I can watch and enjoy them without subtitles. 

 

Bong Joon Ho with his Oscars

Just to mention one last thing. Because I can’t leave without talking about it. Bong Joon Ho directed one of the best post-apocalyptic movies with a mostly American cast (khm… Chris Evans… khm) and I truly and fully believe that everyone should watch it. It’s called Snowpiercer and with it, you will glance into what Korean film-making and story-telling are like. It’s also worth it to mention that Bong Joon Ho is an executive producer on the SnowPiercer TV show on TNT as well. 

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